The Taiwanese Navy conducted a rare Standard Missile 2 (SM-2) launch on September 26 during a live-fire exercise simulating an attack by China, one day after receiving delivery of the first of 12 refurbished P-3C maritime surveillance aircraft from the U.S.
The exercise, which was open to the media, was held 60 nautical miles off the coast of Hualien in northeastern Taiwan. One SM-2 (RIM-66) surface-to-air missile, fired from the 10,500-tonne Kidd-class (Keelung-class) destroyer Makong, successfully intercepted a drone target approximately 80 seconds into flight. This was the first time since the annual Han Kuang exercises in 2007 that Taiwan test-fired the SM-2, the most modern ship-borne air interceptor fielded by the Taiwanese Navy.
Taiwan acquired four Kidd-class destroyers from the U.S. in 2001. Each is equipped with two MK26 SM-2 launchers.
According to military sources, Taiwan must first obtain permission from the U.S. before it can proceed with firing the Raytheon Corp-made fleet area air defense weapon, primarily over fears that the Chinese military will use the occasion to collect sensitive information about the system (Chinese “fishing” vessels, some bristling with antennas, are often spotted in sea areas near where Taiwanese naval exercises are held). Additionally, because of its maximum range of about 170 km, the U.S. has expressed concerns over the risks involved in firing the weapon, along with the political implications of doing so.
Amid media speculation, Lin Yu-fang of the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), who sits on the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee, denied that the location of exercise “102-1 Sea Mark Drill” had anything to do with plans for the deployment of Japanese Self Defense forces on Yonaguni Island, located 111 km from Hualien.
Lin said that the area was best suited to collect information on the missile’s performance, and added that Japan, the U.S. and other countries would have been notified of the exercise.
Due to unfavorable weather conditions, the military had to cancel some parts of the exercise, including maneuvers by Kuang Hua VI fast-attack missile boats and F-16 combat aircraft. Earlier, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry denied media reports that the navy would launch a domestically produced Hsiung Feng-3 (HF-3) supersonic anti-ship missile (also known as Taiwan’s “carrier killer”) during the exercise.
Meanwhile, Taiwan’s anti-submarine warfare capabilities received a much-needed shot in the arm on September 25 with the delivery of the first of 12 P-3C “Orion” maritime surveillance aircraft from the U.S. procured under a US$1.96 billion deal. Piloted by U.S. personnel, the aircraft landed at Pingtung Air Force base in southern Taiwan after completing its journey from Guam.
The P-3C can perform 12-hour-plus missions at an operational range of 2,800 nautical miles. All 12 aircraft are to be delivered by the end of 2015.
Despite ostensibly warming ties in the Taiwan Strait and growing economic cooperation between the two sides, Beijing has refused to remove military intervention from its list of options to achieve unification with the self-ruled, democratic island of 23 million people. Although the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is divided on the best strategy by which to absorb Taiwan, more hardline elements within the party, including some in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and in academia, are adamant that force will ultimately be necessary to achieve this goal.
A recent op-ed in the pro-CCP Wenweipo titled “The Six Wars to be fought by China in the coming 50 years” (an English translation is available here) makes such a case. “Though we are enjoying peace on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, we should not daydream a resolution of peaceful unification from Taiwan administration,” wrote Li Qiuyue in July, under the section “The 1st War: Unification of Taiwan (Year 2020 to 2025).”
“China will have to send an ultimatum to Taiwan, demanding the Taiwanese to choose the resolution of peaceful unification (the most preferred epilogue for the Chinese) or war (an option forced to be so) by 2025,” the author writes. “Taiwan is expected to be defiant towards unification, so military action will be the only solution.”